Understanding Split Sheets and Lyric Sheets

By Frances Katz

This article originally appeared on Songtrust

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Songwriters should know how to show off their work with the best advantage and how to make sure they are paid for their work. While not used by every songwriter, lyric sheets and split sheets are two important documents that may be of use to you as you grow, and something that you need to know how to create and use.

Your Lyric Sheet Is Your Calling Card

Music industry professionals want to see lyric sheets from experienced and beginning songwriters alike. Your lyric sheet is your musical résumé and your industry calling card. How it looks and how it’s formatted are the first thing industry pros will have to evaluate both you and your songs.

A lyric sheet captures all the relevant information about you and your song, if your song includes lyrics. Experts differ over certain formatting choices, but everyone agrees it must include your name and the names of the co-writers, if there are multiple writers. If you have any relevant publishing information such as the performing rights organization (PRO) and the copyright or date of creation (D.O.C.) — month, day, and year — that should also be included.

Providing this information on your lyric sheet is as important as including the lyrics. It provides the necessary information about the songwriter and the song to record labels, music supervisors, and anyone else interested in using your song.

Formatting Your Lyric Sheet

In addition to producers, vocalists will also be working with your lyric sheet. Every line should be written out completely. If the chorus is repeated twice, type it out twice — that makes it much easier for vocalists and others to follow the flow of the song. Some professionals also suggest indenting the chorus to make it stand out; others suggest using italics. Make sure the entire song fits easily on a single typed page. (It’s called a lyric sheet, not lyric sheets, after all.)

Formatting your lyric sheet shows off your songwriting and your awareness of industry standards. Experienced pros will be able to see your creativity and skill best with a well-crafted lyric sheet. Remember, think of your lyric sheet as a combination of résumé and portfolio that represents you to the music industry. That’s why it’s so important to make sure it’s prepared correctly and free of errors. Take the time to learn about how to set up your sheet with the right fonts, centering, margins, and spacing that industry pros are looking for.

Use Songtrust’s lyric sheet template to create a succinct lyric sheet when you’re submitting your song to labels, music supervisors, and for sync placements!

Split Sheets and Royalties

The business side of the music industry isn’t as much fun as the creative side, but if music is your career, it’s important to understand the types of paperwork and contracts that you’ll be seeing and asked to sign. Your share of your copyrights and the agreements you sign will determine your future income. The music industry is filled with legendary stories of brilliant writers who lost out on millions because they didn’t pay close enough attention to their contracts.

If, like many people, you write with a co-writer or co-producer, you each have a stake in the song’s success and it’s important to determine what percentage each of you owns. A split sheet will therefore determine the percentage of royalties each of you will receive in the future.

A split sheet is an agreement that identifies the ownership percentage each producer and songwriter has in the song. It also includes other information such as each person’s specific contribution (lyrics, hook, melody, beats, etc.) and publisher information, as well as if different versions of the song were created. This information will serve as written evidence of copyright ownership and will assure any third parties, such as your PRO or a potential publisher, that there is no dispute about royalty distribution.

Copyright Ownership

It’s important to have a split sheet for every song you write or co-write, but a split sheet is not a copyright or a substitute for a copyright. They are two separate items that together will protect the ownership of your songs. Without a split sheet, disputes can arise over the stake each collaborator has in the song.

U.S. federal copyright law states that if no prior agreement exists between contributors or collaborators, all contributors will own an equal share of the song. Sometimes that’s true and it won’t be an issue, but if some collaborators have a larger or smaller share, it’s important to finalize this ahead of time.

How to Determine the Splits

How you divide up each collaborator’s interest in a song depends on the agreement between you and your co-writers. You can split the rights evenly among each co-writer, or you can give each person a percentage according to their contribution. Genre also plays a part in determining splits. Hip-hop and R&B producers typically get a higher percentage than jazz and classical producers who receive a smaller percentage, or in some cases, no ownership.

Remember that if you include a sample of someone else’s song in your work, you must get permission from whoever owns the rights to that work. Usually you can exchange permission for a percentage of the publishing rights and/or negotiate an upfront fee.

Use Songtrust’s split sheet template to make sure any songs you’ve co-written are correctly determined. Click here to register for Songtrust.

Find out once and for all how streaming and sales royalties work — and how to get the money you deserve — in our free course with Ari Herstand, How to Get All the Royalties You Never Knew Existed.

Frances Katz began her career writing about MTV and Napster. Now she writes about technology, music, business, and culture for a variety of publications including The Week, The Atlantic, Paste, The New York Times, Ploughshares, and others. She lives in Atlanta, but you can keep up with her on Twitter.

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